Sunday, January 8, 2023

No pictures

This story has made it to The New York Times: “A Lecturer Showed a Painting of the Prophet Muhammad. She Lost Her Job.” It’s a perfect example of administrative overreaction fueled by fear and ignorance.

I sometimes think about works I taught as a professor of English and wonder whether I’d choose to teach them now. Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood ? Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man ? Gilbert Sorrentino’s Aberration of Starlight ? Or, say, almost anything by Ovid?

My syllabi for lit classes in my closing years of teaching had a brief disclaimer: “The works we’re reading contain material that some readers may find offensive or disturbing (language, sex, violence).” With Aberration of Starlight I’d note a handful of pages that some students might prefer to skip, adding, in a comic spirit, that some students might want to turn immediately to those pages. I doubt that my relatively casual attitude would work today.

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January 17: Recent developments, as reported by Inside Higher Ed: statements from the president, a former president, and the board of trustees of Hamline University; statements of support for the fired instructor from art historians, PEN America, and Muslim organizations.

And later the same day, as reported by The New York Times: the instructor has filed a lawsuit, and university officials now say that their use of the word “Islamophobic” was “flawed.”

comments: 2

Chris said...

It seems like the instructor made a conscientious effort to make sure that no one would be offended, which suggests that the person who objected either wanted to be offended (for whatever reason) or wanted to intimidate the instructor and impose his or her religious beliefs on others. In either case, the university's reaction was craven.

There may well be times and places in which displaying images regarded by some members of the community as offensive is the wrong thing to do, but this clearly isn't one of them.

Michael Leddy said...

Craven indeed.

If the instructor were teaching, say, Huck Finn and insisted on reading aloud passages with the n-word, no number of warnings, no amount of context-setting, would make it appropriate (in my opinion). But I think this scenario is markedly different.